Animation has come a long way since the invention of the flip-book, which was first patented in 1868. These days, animation is considered its own cinematic genre, and while Pixar may have the widest name recognition, myriad studios, art schools, and individuals from around the world are creating clever, thought-provoking, beautiful, and funny animated short and feature-length films. This summer, Santa Barbarans can see a slew of some of the best “cartoons” when UCSB’s Arts & Lectures presents its free summer film series, Animated Nights. As the title suggests, this year’s slate consists of all animated entries, including The Triplets of Belleville, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Iron Giant, and Loving Vincent.
Kicking off the series on July 6 is the 19th Animation Show of Shows. Curated by film producer Ron Diamond, the show features 16 shorts, including Dear Basketball (U.S.), Kobe Bryant’s ode to his sport; The Burden (Sweden), a treatise on the mundane, melancholy, and humorous aspects of life; The Battle of San Romano (Switzerland), a microscopic look at the individual details of Paolo Uccello’s centuries-old painting; Hangman (U.S.), an adaptation of Maurice Ogden’s haunting poem; and Next Door (U.S.), Academy Award–winning Pixar director Pete Docter’s student film.
A graduate of UCLA film school, Diamond started his producing career while still a Bruin by promoting fellow students’ works. “I went to UCLA, and I met the woman who became my wife, and in 1980, we started our own distribution company,” said Diamond. “I distributed the student film of John Lasseter, which won a Student Academy Award back in 1980.” In 1985, the couple sold their company to a Landmark Theatres affiliate, and Diamond took the helm of the International Tournée of Animation (ITA) — a touring program that made the theatrical rounds from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. In 1990, Diamond started Acme Filmworks, and in 1998, the Animation Show of Shows was born. The following is a snippet of our recent phone conversation.
What drew you to animation? There was a show actually that I can blame it on: [1970s Upstairs Downstairs actress] Jean Marsh — she was the hottie on that show — somehow she got roped into hosting a PBS special series [the International Festival of Animation], where they showed short films …. I saw the show, and I thought, “This is not what I grew up watching; this is so different.” … This was maybe 1975 or ’74. I was still in high school. Then [at UCLA] I took an animation class, which taught me about the history of animation. That’s when I began to realize, There’s a lot going on in this space.
How did you get the job heading up ITA? [Landmark’s] sister company had acquired the rights to produce the International Tournée of Animation …. They hired me because they knew I had been a distributor, I had a lot of rights acquisition experience, and I had good taste in films and filmmakers. … For six years, I produced about a dozen or more feature films, collections of animation. I did all the postproduction supervision, the trailers, the commercials and such, dealing with film, 35-millimeter film elements from all over the globe — Russia, Bulgaria, and all sorts of crazy places where we had to figure out how to use it. It was an interesting, exciting time.
How did you decide on the lineup for this year’s Show of Shows? I set out to look for technically interesting or excellent works, but that wasn’t the criteria; it’s really more about storytelling. All of these years it’s been about telling really interesting stories in creative ways. This particular year felt more thematic than any previous year …. I think it’s a little bit more humanistic, looking with more of a critical eye toward our world and how we fit in it.
What is the story behind the 1964 short Hangman? I had started pursuing the restoration on that film seven years ago … and the timing worked out [for this year] …. It’s very intense. I saw that as a child in grade school projected from 16 millimeter in the classroom …. It’s one of those morality tales that doesn’t seem to go away. It was originally a response to the McCarthy era. But boy, doesn’t it sound like a border defense issue right now? It seems like you can point to something new during the course of the year when the relevancy of that film becomes so prevalent.
One of my favorite pieces is The Battle of San Romano. What’s the story behind that one? I was thinking, “How am I going to get out Hangman?” And I thought, “I have to follow it with something that is of equal importance.” Here we’re looking at [bits of] a painting, and finally when it settles on the [entire canvas], we realize this is a 500-year-old painting [about a brutal battle].
Why did you decide to end the program with Everything? I think ending it on the Alan Watts piece is really important …. it was a philosophical, existential, lovely sort of space to be in at the end …. Here I have 16 very unusual films. If somebody doesn’t like one, they know they can wait about a minute or two and it’ll be over, and they’ll be on to something else they’ll like a lot more. —Michelle Drown
UCSB Arts & Lectures presents its summer film series, Animated Nights, July 6-August 24. Movies screen for free Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m., at UCSB’s Campbell Hall and Fridays, 8:30 p.m., at the Courthouse Sunken Gardens (1100 Anacapa St.). Call 893-3535 or see artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.